(Photo) A sweet bag was distributed on Kim Jong-il’s birthday in 2011. It reads, "There is nothing to envy in the world," and has a picture of the Children's Palace in Pyongyang. Photographed by Choi Kyung-ok in February 2011 (ASIAPRESS).

 

February 16 is the anniversary of the birth of the late Kim Jong-Il known as the Day of the Shining Star. In North Korea it is the most important national holiday, along with the birth anniversary of the late Kim Il Sung (Day of the Sun) on April 15. This year, although it is called the 80th (actually 81st) anniversary of Kim Jong-Il’s birth and the 110th anniversary of Kim Il-Sung’s birth, due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be celebrated under the worst economic conditions in a decade. Therefore, we have asked our reporting partners in North Hamkyung Province and Ryanggang Province about the actual situation of the special rations provided on the biggest holiday of the year (Kang Ji-won / ISHIMARU Jiro).

◆ Only soap, toothbrushes and 2kg of corn

1. Hoeryong City, North Hamkyung Province

――Were there any special rations?

Soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, soy sauce, and miso were distributed at state-run stores for each agency and company workplace. As for food, there was a two-day supply of corn. That's all. Nothing came from the government.
※ Rations provided for those who do not have a workplace could not be examined.

――That's not much for the 80th anniversary of Kim Jong-Il’s birth.

Everyone knows that the country's financial situation is not good, and I think the residents were not disappointed because they thought there was no way they would get proper rations.

――Were there any gifts for children?

Candy distributed to children (on February 14) was not produced by the government but by North Hamkyung Province and was made from corn. There is a shortage of sugar because it is not coming from China.

(Photo) A queue at a North Hwanghae grocery store. People are required to queue when there is a special allocation of rations. Taken by Shin Eui-cheon at North Hwanghae Province, September 2009. (ASIA PRESS)

◆ Supplies from China will be sent to Pyongyang, while rural areas will be cut off

――It seems that there is a severe shortage of supplies.

It's a terrible situation. As for gifts of school uniforms for the children, at the moment, there is no fabric coming in from China, so the uniforms are made from domestic material of pathetic quality. But now that they don't even have that kind of fabric, authorities are wondering what to do with the uniforms for the students who will be going on to higher education this year.

※ For many years now, the significant gift from the leader to the children has been school uniforms and school supplies.

――Isn't it correct that with the resumption of railroad trade with China on January 17, imported goods have begun to circulate in the countryside?

The imported goods coming into Sinuiju from China have been sent to Pyongyang and have not yet reached the countryside. Therefore, the rationing for this holiday may have been a little better for those living in Pyongyang.

However, the countryside areas were instructed in advance by the national government to "solve the problems of the countryside 'on their own' along with the provinces and cities," and the guiding principle was to procure holiday rations on their own.

◆ Security on high alert during holidays

――Is it possible to do it on their own?

I remember that to procure rations for the holidays; the Party cadres imposed most of the "homework" (tasks and quotas) on rural areas. Some companies demanded that Party workers’ pay 3,000 won each (about 0.43 USD).

――Is there a joyous atmosphere for celebrating the holidays?

There are various significant events. However, it isn't joyous because it is a unique security week from the 14th to the 17th. The judiciary, control organs, the Youth League, and local civilian armed forces have been mobilized for security and are on high alert to prevent incidents or accidents. The head of the municipal party organization here also works on holidays.

It's hard to believe that people enjoy the holidays or are full of patriotism. People are happy about holidays because they can get gifts, rations, and time off from work. They are just doing it out of habit because their superiors tell them to celebrate.

2. Ryanggang Province
There was no national holiday rationing at all. There were instructions for agencies and companies to provide special rations to workers independently. For example, a steel factory in Hyesan City provided one kilogram of sailfin sandfish to each worker, and a paper factory provided some soy sauce and miso. All of these were given for free. There were no special rations for those who did not have a job at a company. On the other hand, 500 grams of cooking oil and marine products were rationed per person for employees of the judiciary and governing bodies, including the prosecutor's office, the courts, the police, the Workers' Party organs, and administrative organs.

(Photo) Candy beans inside a sweet bag are handed out. The soybeans appear to be wrapped in sugar. Photographed by Choi Kyung-ok in February 2011 (ASIAPRESS).

◆ A Surprise Treat for Pyongyang's Citizens

Although ASIAPRESS was unable to fully cover the situation in Pyongyang regarding the commemoration of Kim Jong-il's birth, Daily NK, a South Korean media outlet specializing in information on North Korea, reported on February 15 that Pyongyang citizens were happy to receive special rations that far exceeded those of previous years.

The following summarises the per capita rations reported by Daily NK:
2 pairs of underwear, 4 pieces of soap, 2 toothpaste, 2 toothbrushes, 10 pieces of dust paper, and 1 blanket.
Food items include 300 grams of soybean oil, 500 grams of soy sauce, 2 kilograms of miso, 300 grams of pork, 10 eggs, and 500 grams of Chinese sugar.

If the Daily NK report is accurate, the generosity of the rations are unprecedented in recent years, showing the reality that the Kim Jong-un regime is cutting off the countryside in favour of Pyongyang.

※ASIAPRESS contacts its reporting partners in North Korea through smuggled Chinese mobile phones.

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